“See that house? I ditched the cops there one night,” said my father, riding shotgun and pointing at a long driveway leading to a tucked-away garage as my sister-in-law Kim sailed through the intersection of 50th and Lyndale a couple Fridays ago.
What the … ? What year was this?
“1945 or something. I was speeding and they chased me. I ducked into that driveway right there. They went right past, zoom!”
Good to know, and funny what memories can come up for an 86-year-old one-time hooligan with Alzheimer’s, which is what happens pretty regularly when you go riding with him and Kim. Every Friday for the last year, the two somewhat unlikely partners in bargain hunting have been hitting garage and estate sales — Kim’s lifelong passion — and in the process have forged a rare and sweet father- and sister-in-law bond, born of an easy chemistry and a mutual thrill of the chase.
“We’re part of a unique subculture,” said Kim, pulling up to one of several sales we stopped at during the 23rd annual Richfield All-City Garage Sale on May 16. “We have that fire in our bellies. We can’t wait to get up Friday mornings.”
The fire started in the Nokomis neighborhood, where Kim and my brother Jay’s family have lived for 26 years. When our parents recently relocated to the nearby Nokomis Square Collective, a dynamic rummage sale duo (or “rummies,” as Jay affectionately nicknamed them) was born.
“Jerry was a good luck charm for me, and he said he wanted to keep going. My mom comes with us most of the time, but I was surprised when Jerry took to it, like a duck to water, because this isn’t for everyone,” said Kim, whose single mother Joanie raised her and her sister Kay and brother Bill in South Minneapolis.
“It’s about making a find,” said Jerry. “They have books and stuff. Kimmy heads for the clothes, and I head for the books.”
“It’s fun going on a little treasure hunt,” said Kim. “We have fun, that’s the main thing. We also like to see people’s houses.”
What’s more, all sorts of research maintain that the tactile sensation of holding and sorting small objects can be beneficial to Alzheimer’s patients. Dad has always loved bookstores, and to this day his idea of heaven is spending an hour or four trolling the aisles of Half Price Books. Along with his Alzheimer’s has come a newfound passion for trinkets, model cars, dolls, books, and magazines — all of which he lingers over like little miracles.
“Likely the reason it is beneficial to him is because he’s spending time with people he knows, and less about the activity itself. In fact, I’m surprised he likes going to garage sales,” said Janet Yeats, a family therapist with the N. Bud Grossman Center for Memory Research and Care at the University Of Minnesota. “A lot of people with dementia aren’t comfortable going places they’re not familiar with, but what we see is that they get much more relaxed when the person they’re with is relaxed and they are with a person who helps them relax. When people who are familiar to them are calm and enjoying themselves, people with dementia will likely do the same thing.
“Really, it’s the companionship. What we find is the folks with the diagnosis sort of get left. It can be easy to assume that they’re just fine sitting there, but when someone with Alzheimer’s is bored, they don’t necessarily have the language to say, ‘Hey I need someone to help me spend my time.’”
On our ride, the memories come in a rush, and landmarks are noted. There’s Washburn High School, which my mom graduated from and my daughter now attends. There’s Oak Hill Cemetery across from Bachman’s, where Dad once slept all night on a dare. There’s the house on the parkway where a plane crashed when he was a teenager. There’s the house he grew up in. There’s the site of the old Boulevard Theater, where he snuck into countless matinees. There’s…
“Your dad knows Minneapolis really well,” said Kim. “He apparently was a little bit of a problem child. He tells me where all his old girlfriends lived and where he got into trouble with the police.”
As we pull away from one of the several sales offering “thin soup,” I ask the media-shy rummies to recount some of their favorite scores, some highlights of the hunt.
Jerry: “You’re talking to a guy whose short-term memory is really bad.”
Kim: “I found a box of bones once, and I found four Stickley chairs last year. I can put anything in the back of the car. Once I bought so much stuff your dad was getting hit in the head when we were driving home. I had a table banging him in the skull and he never complained, bless his heart.”
Jerry: “Because it was a good day!”
Kim: “I’ve never heard you once say, ‘Why are you buying that?’ And the only thing I’ve had to stop you from doing is buying really expensive items once in a while. Remember that glass clown?”
Jerry: “Yes, and I still wake up at 3 in the morning thinking about it.”
Kim: “The thing I’ve learned is to trust your instincts. Often when I buy something I don’t know what it is I like about it until I get home. My house is like a prop department, seriously. If you need something, it’s a pretty safe bet I’ve got it.”
After about a dozen stops, the rummies are sated. Kim walks away with some lamps and vintage clothes, Jerry with some books and Hank Williams CDs. All bought for a song, and with the promise of more Fridays on their mind.
“I love going out with your dad because it’s pretty great to hang out with someone who accepts just who you are,” said Kim, post-haul. “I think that’s one of his best attributes, and I think it’s pretty rare. He’s very easy and fun to just hang out with, and it’s pretty nice having your father-in-law also be your friend who you look forward to spending time with.”